The Power and Point of Low-Tech Meeting Games

By Andrea Driessen, Chief Boredom Buster, No More Boring Meetings

A quick pop quiz: What one meeting tool delivers increased engagement, teamwork, retention, problem-solving ability, goal attainment, cross-generational connections, risk taking and even a sense of control over one’s work environment—plus a substantial dose of FUN?

If you said a well-designed game, you’re a winner!

Given its many positive results, it’s no wonder gamification—bringing participatory games, game apps and sophisticated play to work and meetings—has garnered a worldwide fan base.

With myriad options, where do you begin? Even the word gamification itself (five syllables!) is intimidating. But integrating games into a meeting needn’t be complex, and it doesn’t even have to involve technology.

Designing a low- or no-tech game for an event, vs. a customized game application, is relatively more manageable and affordable. Most can easily be tied to business objectives. And if you’re bringing games to your meeting for the first time, why not start small, and score a big win—for you, your attendees and your organization?

After staging countless educational events for adults, I’ve found that what separates the great events from the mediocre are meeting planners who are genuinely game for punching up how they engage and educate. I believe play is a serious, crucial success factor—not a fluffy, add-on extra.  In fact, brain science now shows that when learning is combined with simultaneous movement, we remember more!

So whether you plan events for the Fortune 500 or you simply want to better engage your direct reports, when you purposefully integrate games into the workplace, you boost participants’ attention, participation, learning and productivity.

The Disproportionate Power of Low-Tech Games

We’re surrounded by technology these days, so it’s natural to default to a tech mindset. Brian Walter, designer of hundreds of games for audiences from 5-7,000, sees it this way:

“Going old school by using low-tech, analog or prop-based games becomes disproportionately powerful.” For example:  when participants share input via, say, an audience response device, their answers are anonymous—part of the collective. Instead, Walter suggests gamers answer questions by waving flags, or even more simply, colored paper in the air. Or shake things up by having people rise to vote with their bodies. Everyone who thinks the answer is A, stand up!

Why does this matter? Walter continues: “When we are kinesthetically involved in activities, our brains process experiences on a deeper, more lasting level. Such physicality associated with answering questions also taps our natural herd instincts. We get more emotionally bought into the experience. Beyond that, the exchange is also visual—the best way to learn new information. We more deeply believe in ideas associated with a multi-sensory experience, and form deeper bonds with others who play with us.”

Rob Hyman of Interplay Experience Design has been designing games for business meetings long before the term “gamification” became commonplace. As for the value of low-tech games, Hyman believes: “While there’s a place for apps in a learning experience, they encourage more solitary, screen-to-face time.”

He continues: “A face-to-face learning experience captures more minds with a larger array of learning styles and ensures higher participation by using common materials that everyone knows how to use. Not every participant has the right digital technology at hand. But everyone knows how to write, fling a Frisbee and hold a mini-election—three key tools we used in a low-tech game for Starbucks. We first walked them through an idea-distillation process, and then had them write their thoughts on customized Frisbees. Imagine the fusion of laughter and deeper learning among adults as they are surrounded by hundreds of actionable ideas literally flying around them. We still see those discs on people’s desks to this day.”

The Currency of Great Ideas

Good ideas always have currency. Here’s a straightforward way to amplify idea generation via gamification. You’ll also incent brilliance, create more engagement, and boost learning. All for a few pennies or dollars per person, and for any sized meeting—from small team huddles to large conventions. Simply give each participant some form of fake currency that, during the course of a meeting, they can award at their discretion to fellow attendees based on how much they liked someone’s ideas. The currency can be as basic and low-cost as, say, chocolate coins, or low-value gift cards. As the gathering ends, award the person with the most currency—and thereby the best ideas!—with a round of applause or a more substantial prize.

No- and Low-Tech Games Participants Play

Here are just a few games that can be played with nothing more than a group of people, or via a robust PowerPoint- or Keynote-style deck, designed internally or by a professional vendor. Add cool graphics and sound effects for an even more memorable, multi-sensory experience.

  • Improvisation wraps teambuilding, listening and communication skills into one, no-tech package. All you need are people and a few improv game concepts. For ideas, check out the classic book Impro by Keith Johnstone.
  • Minute to Win It: Play off this popular TV show with simple objects that become props in lively team-based contests: compete by balancing some of your company products on your nose, and design ways to “run rings” around your competition.
  • Fact or Crap: Test the audience on company trivia and product details with this easy-to-design, true/false, slide-based game.
  • Volunteer ball boosts participation in a fresh way. Your facilitator throws a Nerf ball to call on someone. If it hits you, congrats! You volunteer. Or choose someone else to volunteer.  We dare attendees to NOT be physically and visually involved as objects fly through the air—indoors.

Want to keep playing? Check out these additional resources:

Now go get your low-tech game on—and let us know about your winning ideas!